Feature Photo: Royce Lewis, SS/OF, JSerra Catholic HS (San Juan Capistrano, CA)
POSITIONAL PREVIEW LINKS
The 2017 MLB Draft Class boasts a nice mix of the up-the-middle talent, including three of the top overall talents in the class in UC-Irvine’s hitting savant Keston Kiura and prepsters Royce Lewis and Hunter Greene. Florida prep product Jeter Downs has rocketed up boards this spring to join defensive stalwart Nick Allen as additional potential first round high school targets, while UNC’s Logan Warmoth has established himself as the clear front runner among the crop of collegiate shortstops. There’s quality depth through the first six rounds with a number of surefire shortstops to go with a collection of versatile players capable of slotting in across the infield and the outfield alike.
Lewis has the athleticism and the skill set to profile both on the dirt and in the grass at the next level, bolstered by double-plus speed, quick-twitch actions, and a solid throwing arm. He ranges well at short and should be able to stick at the six-spot, though some clubs prefer his wheels out in center field where has shown impressive range and closing ability. Either way he is a high-value defender whose speed will also provide impact on the bases, where he shows advanced instincts, impressive aggressiveness, and the occasional sub-4.0 second home-to-first times – true 80-grade speed.
At the plate, Lewis has good feel for the barrel and a chance to hit for both average and power thanks to explosive bat speed. As his body continues to mature he should be able to carry the fence with more regularity, and he has the upside of a plus hit stick that can give you 20-plus home runs a year to go with a pile of doubles and triples. Lewis rounds out the package with off-the-charts makeup, making him one of the most sought after talents in the draft class. An up-the-middle defender with a chance for impact offensive production, he should hear his name called very early on Day One, and likely in the top five picks.
The top two-way player in the draft class, most of the heat on Greene to date has been linked to his easy upper-90s to triple-digit fastball velocity and power breaking ball. The UCLA commit is also an impact talent on the positional side, however, and a legit first-round talent as a power-hitting shortstop. Greene’s actions on the dirt are smooth and athletic, with his arm strength grading out as an easy double-plus. His footwork is clean, though some evaluators project an eventual shift to third base due to his size and average pure foot speed.
In the box, Greene is a show unto himself, displaying plus to double-plus raw pop in BP generated through a combination of big time strength and plus bat speed. His in-game production has lagged, with consistent, hard contact a bit harder to come by against high-level arms, but the swing plays and there’s little doubt he has the skillset to develop into a dangerous middle-of-the-order hitter with impact power and a chance for at least an average hit tool. The odds are Greene is selected by a team who wants him on the mound, but it would be a treat to see him permitted to develop on both sides of the ball, at least at the outset of his pro career. He’s on the short list to go first overall and should be a lock to go in the top five.
Keston Hiura, 2B/OF, UC Irvine
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/185 B/T: R/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 20y, 10m
Nursing an arm injury, Hiura was limited to DH duties for the duration of the spring, leading to questions about his future position and whether he’ll require surgery after the draft. The USA Baseball Collegiate National Team alum is regarded as having one of the better bats in this class and the numbers corroborate that assessment, with Hiura slashing .442/.567/.693 with 50 walks to just 38 strikeouts across 262 plate appearances this season. In addition to the plus hit tool, Hiura also flashes above-average power, capable of hitting 20 home runs annually at the next level.
Defensively, Hiura has logged time in the outfield and at second base in the past, with evaluators split as to where they think he fits best as a pro. The path of least resistance may be on the grass, where Hiura would likely require less developmental attention and his bat could push him quickly through a minor league system. Though the potential for surgery is a dark cloud hanging over the profile, Hiura won’t turn 21 until August, making missed time less of a concern. Even with the positional questions Hiura is an elite talent and could come off the board as early as the top ten picks.
Logan Warmoth, SS, Univ. of North Carolina
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/190 B/T: R/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 20y, 9m
A steady contributor throughout his collegiate career, Warmoth’s greatest strength is his lack of weaknesses, possessing average-or-better tools across the board. With a balanced swing and level bat path, Warmoth is an offensive threat, regularly barreling balls too all fields. While the power is shy of impact, he should be capable of producing 10-to-15 home runs a year along with a few dozen doubles. On the season, Warmoth is slashing .349/.417/.569 with nine home runs and 18 stolen bases, and has been a steady producer dating back to his performance in the Cape Cod League last summer.
At shortstop, Warmoth is an instinctual defender with above-average first-step quickness, soft hands, and an average, accurate arm with solid carry. After a strong showing with the bat and glove at the ACC Tournament in front of an abundance of MLB executives, Warmoth appears secure as a first-round pick, with late-helium potentially carrying him into the top half of the round.
Jeter Downs, SS, Pace (Miami Gardens, FL)
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/180 B/T: R/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 18y, 10m
A standout performer with the Astros Scout Team/Elite Squad Prime in Jupiter last October, closing out the showcase/tournament circuit in style, Downs upped his draft stock even more this spring thanks to some further strengthening of his physique and some added pop. The Miami-area six-spotter has shown an increased ability to do damage in the box, pushing his power projections to at least average to go with an already impressive hit tool that grades out to average or a tick above. He regularly finds the ball with the barrel and has a knack for syncing-up swing plane with pitch plane, producing lots of line drive and hard fly ball contact.
On the dirt, Downs shows solid action and enough arm strength to make the necessary throws at short, though some think he is a slightly cleaner fit at second base where he could grade out as a plus defender. Either way, he should be asset with the glove. Downs is an above-average runner whose speed plays up even more thanks to good reads and selective aggression on the base paths, and looks the part of a true five-tool talent. He is getting first-round heat and could be the first prep middle infielder off the board.
Allen is perhaps the best infield defender in the class, capable of highlight-reel plays across the infield. His actions are preternatural, with a calm confidence that allows him to get creative on the dirt while constantly showing evaluators new tricks with the leather (and arm). Though standing at a diminutive 5-foot-9, Allen has the quickness to cover the necessary ground at the six-spot as well as the arm and quick release to make all the necessary plays, and then some.
In the box, Allen has a compact swing capable of producing hard line-drive contact, and proponents believe the bat speed to ultimately produce low-double-digit home runs at maturity. More skeptical evaluators view him as a 30-grade power bat, but one that should rack up his share of doubles thanks to his plus speed and ability to sting the gaps. Were there not a bias against smaller statured players, Allen would be a first round lock. Even with the body questions, there’s a good chance he lands somewhere in the back half of the first round.
NAMES TO KNOW
McConnell has struggled some at the plate this spring, but helped his cause with a couple of impressive performances at USA Baseball’s National High School Invitational in March, where he flashed impact speed on the bases, solid pop, and smooth actions at shortstop. The Florida commit is well suited to not only stick at the six-spot long term, but to develop into an above-average defender there thanks to above-average arm strength, good speed and range, and soft and sure hands.
At the plate McConnell can struggle to adjust to quality off-speed offerings and his timing and pitch-ID have been inconsistent throughout the spring. There’s solid bat speed in the swing and good strength, giving him a chance to rack-up extra bases once he’s able to refine his approach. McConnell looks like a good fit somewhere towards the back-half of Day 1 – either in the supplemental-first or second round. If he elects to honor his commitment to Florida he’ll be draft eligible as a sophomore in 2019, giving him some leverage and one of a handful of potential over-slot targets for teams with extra picks and/or money on Day 1.
Chris Seise, SS, West Orange (Winter Garden, FL)
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/185 B/T: R/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 18y, 5m
After some inconsistent performances over the course of the showcase and tournament circuit in 2016, Seise has come into his own this Spring, seeing maturation in his body and improved coordination and fluidity in his actions. The result has been a jump in his offensive performance and, most importantly, increased consistency in his swing and quality of contact. Though he doesn’t necessarily project to be a big over-the-fence threat, Seise gets good carry to the gaps and has made louder contact over the past four months than he showed through the second half of 2016, generating good torque through his core and leverage in his swing.
Defensively, Seise has a good chance to stick at short, though his arm and hands would easily play at the hot corner if his body continues to thicken. He also has the raw foot speed – grading out as a plus to double-plus runner – to shift out to center field, where some scouts feel he best fits. Regardless of his ultimate defensive home, the jump in offensive performance and physical maturity over recent months has Seise climbing draft boards and looking the part of a top three round selection.
Kevin Merrell, SS, Univ. of South Florida
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/189 B/T: L/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 21y, 6m
Merrell has parlayed a strong Spring performance with impact speed to push his way up draft boards over the past four months, now projecting as a potential Day One selection. An easy plus to double-plus runner, Merrell ticks-up another half a grade underway and could cover massive swaths of grass should he shift to center field at the next level as some evaluators suggest. At short, he covers good ground and gets to the requisite balls, but the arm is a little light – particularly to the hole and on the run – and the hands and footwork are each more adequate than good.
At the plate Merrell utilizes a compact stroke that lacks plane and can have him working on the top half of the ball a little too often. Still, his speed allows him to grab more than his share of infield hits and he has also produced a good amount of line drive contact, including to the gaps. Even with some added strength this past year there are some questions as to how impactful the bat will be with wood and against high-level pro arms, but as a high-performance collegiate bat with an up-the-middle defensive home (be it at shortstop or center field) he should be off the board in the first three rounds, and perhaps as early as the second-half of Day One.
Kevin Smith, SS, Univ. of Maryland
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/185 B/T: R/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 20y, 11m
Smith wasn’t heavily recruited out of Columbia High School in East Greenbush, New York, with Maryland being his only D-I scholarship offer. He’s made the most out of his time at College Park, developing into a potential early round talent and one of the better defensive middle-infielders in the class. A glove-first shortstop, Smith slashed .301/.348/.427 with five home runs using wood bats in the Cape Cod League last summer. That momentum didn’t transfer over to his draft year however, as Smith struggled offensively throughout the first half, ultimately finishing the regular season with a .269/.324/.538 slash line.
Smith does flash above-average power, launching a team-best 11 home runs this season, which helps quell some concerns about the stick. He’ll need to tighten-up his approach and make more consistent hard contact for that power to shine through at the next level, and evaluators who saw him good on the Cape believe in the potential for a fringy hit tool that could allow for 15-plus home runs a year. That offensive upside combined with a solid up-the-middle glove should have his name called somewhere in the second or third round.
Riley Mahan, 2B, Univ. of Kentucky
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/195 B/T: L/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 21y, 5m
Mahan stands out as one of the more athletic players on a Kentucky team that led the Southeastern Conference in most offensive categories. Mahan has slashed .339/.396/.626 at the time of this writing, while leading the team with 15 home runs and 159 total bases in 291 plate appearances. Utilizing a level, balanced swing, Mahan produces line drives to all fields and over-the-fence power to the pull side. Though not a burner, Mahan has first-step quickness that plays well on the bases and in the field, complementing his average speed.
After making 30 errors serving as the team’s starting shortstop last season, Mahan has transitioned to second base this season where he’s cut down on his miscues and generally seems more comfortable. Ultimately, Mahan may be best suited for the outfield where his athleticism can shine and his bat can accelerate his time table. He is likely to come off the board somewhere in the first few rounds on Day 2 to a team valuing collegiate performance.
Jake Holmes, SS, Pinnacle (Phoenix, AZ)
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/195 B/T: R/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 18y, 11m
Holmes is a big-bodied athlete who moves very well for his size and flashed the potential for at least average power at the next level. His swing can get a little long, and the bat speed is average, but he has performed well this Spring and looked good as part of the AZ T-Rex Rawlings club that made a deep run in Jupiter at the WWBA World Championship last fall. Defensively, Holmes has the hands and arm for shortstop, but his lower-half quickness might not be able to keep up with the game at the next level, making third base or center field a potential landing spot depending on where the body ultimately lands. Teams who saw Holmes good this Spring could make a run at him early on Day Two.
After a 2016 season in which he slashed .355/.479/.516, Walls entered this spring as a possible first-round pick. That’s likely not going to happen, as the Seminole shortstop has struggled offensively for much of the Spring, slashing .265/.409/.395 entering NCAA Tournament play. A switch-hitter, Walls has a compact line-drive stroke that is short to the ball and geared more toward contact than power. Wells also possesses a discerning eye, walking more than he’s struck out in each of the past two seasons and during a stint with the Team USA Collegiate National team last summer.
An instinctual defender, Wells has good first-step quickness at shortstop, ranging well to either side, and his soft hands and quick transfer assist in making his average arm play up, giving him a decent chance to stick at shortstop. Teams willing to look past some of the performance hiccups this Spring could take Walls as early as the third round, and given his up-the-middle profile and track record of performance he’s likely off the board by the end of the fourth round.
Zach Rutherford, SS, Old Dominion Univ.
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/180 B/T: R/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 21y, 3m
Rutherford followed-up his all-star showing in the Cape League last summer with a solid spring at Old Dominion, positioning himself well to come off the board early on Day Two. Though his actions are not necessarily clean at shortstop and there are some questions as to his ability to make the more difficult plays at the next level, he is a steady and capable defender with enough arm and range to slot across the diamond at multiple positions, making him an interesting option as a future utility player.
He has good feel for the barrel in spite of a swing that can get a bit hitchy, helping him to quality contact rates and giving him a chance to hit for some average at the next level, albeit without much in the way of pop. The profile fits in the fourth or fifth round, though his status as a steady collegiate performer could entice a team to bite as early as the third.
Tyler Freeman, SS, Etiwanda (Rancho Cucamonga, CA)
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/170 B/T: R/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 18y, 0m
Freeman has been a steady performer on the showcase and travel ball circuit for some time and has further strengthened his bona fides with a strong spring showing. The TCU recruit shows good balance throughout his swing, with an efficient and effective barrel path capable of producing hard line drive contact to all fields. His power is more gap-to-gap at present, but there’s some additional strength to come and enough bat speed to project 15-plus home run power at maturity.
Defensively, Freeman handles himself well on the dirt, showing solid arm strength and steady actions. He has the skillset to develop into a solid-average defender at short in the future, but could likewise fit at the keystone where his average overall tools would play up. There isn’t a standout plus tool in the package, but the sum of the parts could be a quality everyday up-the-middle contributor when all is said and done. He fits in the third to fifth round range and could emerge as a top 50-type talent in three years if he makes his way to TCU and performs as expected.
Adam Hall, SS, Lucas (London, ON)
Ht/Wt: 5’11”/165 B/T: R/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 18y, 0m
Hall may not be the most refined defender at shortstop, but the Team Canada alum has all of the tools to develop into a quality producer at the six spot with continued instruction and reps. An easy plus to double-plus runner, Hall covers good ground on the dirt, though his effective range is limited due to some struggles to complete plays at the margins, and particularly to the backhand side. His speed would play in center field, though a shift to second base might be more likely, allowing him to slow the game down some.
At the plate, Hall keeps fairly compact to contact and works on a quality plane, allowing for large contact windows and giving him room to work from line to line. The bat speed is average, leading some evaluators to question how much damage he will ultimately be able to inflict at the upper-levels, even with some additional strength to come. A quality athlete overall, Hall showed well on the showcase circuit and was both a Perfect Game and Under Armour All-American last summer, giving him a shot to come off the board as early as the third round, with the profile fitting comfortably in the third- to fifth-round range.
Greg Jones, SS, Cary (Cary, NC)
Ht/Wt: 5’11”/185 B/T: S/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 19y, 3m
Jones’s calling card is his elite speed, with the North Carolina prep product capable of breaking off sub-4.0 second home-to-first times from both sides of the plate. Jones has undergone a huge growth spurt over the past 12 months, growing six inches and adding 15 to 20 good pounds in the process, making him a much more interesting draft prospect this spring than he was last summer. The timing of the growth spurt has put some teams behind the eight ball, as there isn’t a long book on “this version” of Jones performing against top high school talent, and the early end of his high school season made it difficult for some decision-makers to get quality looks.
At the plate, Jones has a simple swing that checks out from both sides of the plate, with the UNC Wilmington commit profiling as a top-of-the-order type bat who can spray hard contact to all fields and drive the gaps for extra bases. His limited track record, as well as some questions as to whether he’s truly an infielder long term or better fit in center field, could see him drop far enough that it would make sense to go to college and try to up his value with increased exposure and performance over the next two seasons (he is already 19 years old and would be draft eligible again as a sophomore in 2019). Presently he projects as a third- to fifth-round selection.
Cole Freeman, 2B, Louisiana State Univ.
Ht/Wt: 5’9”/180 B/T: R/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 22y, 4m
Freeman led the Cape Cod League in hitting last summer, raking at a .374 clip off the strength of a contact-friendly, compact swing and his double-plus wheels. He performed similarly well this Spring for the Tigers, slashing .333/.435/.426 while drawing 25 walks to just 18 strikeouts over 300 plate appearances as of the time of this writing, and has reached base an impressive 20 times on HBPs.
Defensively, Freeman is a capable defender at second base with the hands to chip in at shortstop in a pinch and enough arm to serve as a true utility option in this infield. His speed makes him an intriguing option in center field, as well, rounding out a quality super-utility profile that could come at a nice “senior-sign” discount. As a senior, Freeman is a little older than his peers who could go in the third-to-fifth rounds, and the opportunity for teams to save money will certainly play into his selection, but his feel for contact, double-plus speed and defensive versatility make him a legit prospect and worthy target in that range.
Ernie Clement, SS, Univ. of Virginia.
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/165 B/T: R/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 21y, 6m
The University of Virginia promotes a culture of contact epitomized by potential first rounders outfielder Adam Haseley and first baseman Pavin Smith. Their contact rates, however, don’t match teammate Ernie Clement, who’s struck out just seven times in 251 plate appearances this season (3.58%). Though his bat-to-ball skills are advanced, Clement’s power is well-below average, as he’s produced just eight extra base hits setting the table for Haseley and Smith as the Cavaliers leadoff hitter, and he’s also walked just 13 times on the season, potentially limiting his future utility as a top-of-the-order bat.
With the glove, Clement is capable defender making routine plays and ranging well to either side, though his arm may lack the necessary carry for shortstop as a professional, making second base his likely landing spot for a full time position. He runs well enough to fit as a potential super-utility type, as well, capable of spending time at short, second and center field. While the production has been steady and his performance on the Cape last summer earned him league MVP honors, the profile is light on impact, leaving Clement as a better fit in the fourth or fifth round than in the top 100 picks.
Jesse Berardi, SS, St. John’s Univ.
Ht/Wt: 5’10”/185 B/T: L/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 21y, 5m
Berardi has performed well this spring, slashing .356/.456/.462 over 274 plate appearances while compiling more walks (38) than strikeouts (35). Berardi doesn’t have an impact tool, but shows a solid approach at the plate and should be able to maintain solid contact rates at the next level. He could see a degradation in his on-base production as high-level pro arms challenge him more often in the zone, making it imperative that he demonstrate an ability to at least do some damage to the gaps. Ultimately a better defensive fit at second base, he profiles as a fourth- to sixth-round selection.
Hairston’s is a tough profile to nail down. The diminutive shortstop shows a high level of comfort and high baseball IQ on the field to go with a solid track record of performance, but he’s a fringy runner with below-average pop who might not have quite enough strength and speed to fit into a true super-utility role at the next level.
Hairston is an aggressive bat who can sting the ball to the pull side, but is less effective driving the opposite field gap. He’s cool in the box and matched up well against better arms this year, but the ceiling for damage is limited and he’ll likely need to rely on quality of contact and BABIP in order to produce enough to be a regular on a 25-man roster. He could fit in the fourth- to sixth-round range, with teams who believe there is a little more pop to unlock skewing towards the early part of that range.
Hampered by a lingered right shoulder injury this spring, Guthrie has struggled mightily at the plate for the Gators, leaving evaluators to rely on past performances in determining where he might ultimately fit on draft day. When healthy, Guthrie is a good defender at short, with a quick release that helps his adequate arm strength play up. After undergoing a procedure on his right elbow last fall, combined with his injury issues this spring, there is some additional risk that the three-year Gator contributor might not bounce back fully. Teams undeterred by the injuries could pop Guthrie early on Day Two, given his past performance as an underclassman and with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team, though it seems more likely he falls somewhere in the fourth- to sixth-round range.
Adam Oviedo, SS, Alvarado (Alvarado, TX)
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/185 B/T: R/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 18y, 5m
After solid performances on the showcase circuit last summer, Oviedo has shown a little more length to his swing and inconsistency in his timing during his high school season. The bat speed is still there, though, and proponents believe it’s only a matter of time until he settles back in to the steadier performer that was on display earlier in the scouting cycle. Defensively, he shows solid hands and a strong left-side arm, leaving open the possibility of shifting over to third base or second base if his maturing body ultimately leads him to lose a step on his average speed.
He profiles as a solid-average defender with a chance to hit for a little bit of pop, though more conservative clubs might elect to see where the body, and the offensive performance, goes at TCU rather than coughing-up early round money to buy him out of his commitment. At present, he profiles as a fourth to sixth round talent.
Austin Martin, SS, Trinity Christian (Jacksonville, FL)
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/170 B/T: R/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 18y, 2m
The Vandy commit shows the foundation for a solid up-the-middle profile, including above-average athleticism and body control, a solid left-side arm, and good quickness. He is still growing into his frame, leading to some inconsistencies in his actions, both in the field and at the plate, and calling into question whether he isn’t better suited to take his game to Nashville for three years to continue to develop further. In the box he shows a solid approach and some feel for the barrel.
Martin doesn’t have much present power, but is an above-average runner and should grow into at least gap-to-gap pop, where his foot speed should be an asset. On present talent, Martin looks the part of a fourth- to sixth-round talent, though there might not be enough slot money available in that range to buy him out of his commitment to the ‘Dores. A team that believes in the upside could free up some money early on and make a run at signing him out of a mid-to-late Day Two selection.